IACAN Seminar: Cancer of the Cervix

From left: Dr. Sanjay Sethi,  Dr. Terri Pustilnik, Dr. Sewa S. Legha (Vice President of IACAN), and Dr. Rachna Bhala.  Photos: Bijay Dixit

From left: Dr. Sanjay Sethi, Dr. Terri Pustilnik, Dr. Sewa S. Legha (Vice President of IACAN), and Dr. Rachna Bhala. Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Radha Dixit
HOUSTON: On Sunday June 15, the Indian American Cancer Network held a very informative educational outreach event entitled “CANCER OF THE CERVIX: A common disease in South Asian women”. The event, free to the public, was held at India House from 3 to 5 pm on Father’s Day weekend. Kanchan Kabad, president of IACAN began the session by laying out the objectives of the organization which included education, cancer survivor activities, assistance with patient navigation, and spirituality projects in hospitals. Dr. Sewa S. Legha, medical oncologist and vice president of IACAN introduced the panel of medical specialists.

The first speaker was Dr. Sanjay Sethi, medical oncologist from Texas Oncology. Dr. Sethi explained the epidemiology of cancer of the cervix. According to Dr. Sethi, cancer of the cervix is the tenth most common cancer in the United States, the incidence being almost 12,000 new cases per year in this country. However, in developing nations such as India, it is the second most common type of cancer. There are ten times more cases reported from India, almost 120,000 new cases per year

Dr. Rachna Bhala, Sugar Land-based gynecologist, explained the screening and preventative measures regarding cancer of the cervix. Screening methods include the pap smear, a test which collects cells from the surface of the cervix and detects abnormalities. These abnormal cells can be treated before they become cancerous. It is recommended that women begin having regular pap smears three years after onset of sexual intercourse. Besides the Pap test, which is recommended to be done once every year in younger women (less often in later years), there is a new DNA test for the Human Papilloma Virus which is more sensitive and detects presence or absence of HPV infection. The high risk HPV types are Type 16 and 18 (together they cause over 70% of cervical cancers). Two different types of vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) are now available as preventative measures for both boys and girls. There is a set of 3 injections to be given over 6 months to fully immunize a person. The vaccine is less effective if used after the onset of sexual activity. Dr. Bhala encouraged parents to ask their pediatrician about the HPV vaccine which is now advised to be used universally during the adolescent years. The vaccine is safe and has no serious side effects.
Dr. Terri Pustilnik, gynecologic-oncologist from Texas Oncology, discussed diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Pustilnik emphasized that cervical cancer is the leading cancer in South Asian women and the second most common cancer worldwide. She mentioned that annual well women exams are important when it comes to early detection because oftentimes there are no symptoms of cervical cancer. In other cases, abnormal bleeding, leg or pelvic pain, and weight loss may be symptoms for an underlying condition. Dr. Pustilnik explained the different stages of cervical cancer and the level of treatment required for each one, ranging from surgery to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. The audience was able to see a video example of a Davinci Robotic surgery, an illustration of the technology available to patients today. Cervical cancer when detected early, is highly curable (70-85%) in Stage 1 and 2. Late diagnosis (Stages 3 and 4) have low cure rates (<30%) and cause immense misery and pain. All women should be aware that this is a preventable cancer in most cases. Others can be cured when diagnosed early and treated with simple treatments like a short course of Radiotherapy which is highly effective for Stages 1 and 2. Chemotherapy is required to adequately treat Stages 3 or 4.

IACAN President, Kanchan Kabad

IACAN President, Kanchan Kabad

The panel concluded their educational program with a question and answer session. A vote of thanks was given by VK Dorai, treasurer of IACAN, and refreshments were served after the event. IACAN continues to hold informative educational outreach events free to the public in their ongoing mission to cope, care, and connect with community members and survivors.

For further information on IACAN, contact iacannetwork@gmail.com or call 713-370-3489.Or visit the official website at www.iacannetwork.org.